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Miriam Margolyes and Antisemitism

Mar 18, 2015 | Glen Falkenstein

Miriam Margolyes and Antisemitism
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“It’s becoming a growing concern: who would ride with us, the Australian Jews? The answers I received that night were vague and left me wanting more.”

On Q&A on 2nd March, Journalism student Erin Gordon asked the panel “Who would ride with us, the Australian Jews,” pointing to a rise in antisemitic attacks and questioning why there had not been wider support to combat such hatred.

Gordon recently published her views on the matter and the panelists’ responses on Mamamia, in particular “Miriam’s (Margolyes) desire to blame modern anti-Semitism on the state of Israel.” She noted that since asking her question, anti-Israel protestors at Sydney University were “seen fighting with other students and using intimidation tactics to traumatise the largely Jewish audience.”

Margolyes response to her question? “After the Holocaust it was not fashionable or possible to be antisemitic because of the horrors that Jews experienced during the Holocaust. But because of the actions of the state of Israel… and the support that has been given by American Jews and Australian Jews to what is going on in Israel, antisemitism has again reared its horrific, ugly head, and antisemitism is as unacceptable as anti-Muslim feeling.”

On her last point she is absolutely correct – hatred towards local Muslim communities is as deplorable as any other hatred and needs to be countered.

Margolyes’ statement, however, also implied that antisemitism today can be attributed to the establishment and ongoing existence of the State of Israel.

Her comments are not only factually wrong, but deeply offensive. If any other target of racism had been blamed for the actions of racists by a Q&A panellist, it would be expected that the hosts and other panellists have no hesitation in responding promptly and forcefully.

Margolyes has made it clear previously that she does not believe Israel should exist and is not really in favour of a “two state solution” for Israelis and Palestinians. She has refused to look fairly at the difficult situation Israel faces in dealing with rejectionist terror groups like Hamas, but even less defensible than her simplistic comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is her insistence on linking the rise of violent antisemitism to Israel and to Jewish support of Israel.

It is wrong to target Jews and use Israel as the excuse, which happens all too often and has contributed to the rising emigration of Jewish populations from Europe. It is now too dangerous to be visibly Jewish on the streets of many European cities, with European Jewish leaders indicating antisemitism is at a decades-high. Is it really acceptable to say all this should be understood simply as a reaction to Israel? Would comparable logic, looking for the causes in the victim’s own behaviour, reasonably be applied to any other group subjected to large-scale racism?

The issue is very simple – racism against Jews, like racism against anyone else, is the fault of the racists. The notion that it is the behaviour of Jews that causes antisemitism gives the racists a free pass and licenses their bigotry.

Whatever one thinks of Israel, antisemitism existed before Israel was established, and continues to exist in forms that have nothing to do with Israel.

Stereotypical depictions and images of Jews continue to arouse controversy. The Deicide charge associated with the death of Jesus Christ continues to be targeted against Jewish people and remains a source of antisemitism.

The historic trope of Jews trying to take over the world, or controlling large parts of it, is a racist standard. Antisemitism associated with some anti-Zionism is the latest incarnation of this, with bigots using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an excuse to be hateful, or otherwise collectively blame Jews for what goes on in the Middle East. For some, the words ‘Jew’ and ‘Zionist’ are used interchangeably and without distinction, while historic slurs purporting that Jews are trying to take over the world are now compounded by the same claims about Zionists or Israelis.

Following Margolyes’ response, Gordon replied on the program: “Israel and Judaism, they are interlinked but they are also separate things… why should we still face some antisemitism that’s going on in Australia…just because of the incidents… of a group of people in another country.”

When faced with Gordon’s response, Margoyles commented: “We have to just keep fighting about it and demand that we (Jews) are given the respect that all citizens should enjoy and a sense of safety that all citizens should enjoy… You asked me why and I think that is the reason, I think it is because of Israel.”

Of course not all criticism, legitimate or otherwise, of Israel is a mask for or manifestation of antisemitism. It is however evident that an ancient hatred of Jews is often expressed through antipathy toward Israel.

The hashtags #IllridewithJew and #Jesuisjuif trended widely following the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters and Kosher supermarket in Paris. These are appropriate responses to hatred in a society where you don’t have the right to be a bigot. Along with broader education, they, unlike Miriam Margoyles, contribute to a better understanding and awareness of persistent hatred.

There are plenty of vibrant and informative discussions on Q&A. Gordon was brave enough to ask a question about countering antisemitism on national television. She deserved a better response than she received.

Glen Falkenstein

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